5 Reasons Why Black Is The New White

March 23, 2012

Earlier this week, I was with a group of senior executives at a multinational corporation, looking at some slides I had produced for them. The HR VP had never worked with Ideas on Stage before, so our 2.0 visual style was entirely new to him.

The slides were entirely compatible with this company’s corporate identity, except that the slide background was black instead of their usual white.

The HR VP’s reaction was very positive: “I’d never thought of using a black background before. It looks so much better.”

Indeed it does. Very much better. Apple uses dark backgrounds (dark does not need to mean pure black) and that’s as good an argument as any. Here are five other reasons why you should stop using white backgrounds, and use a dark background wherever possible.

1. Don’t fatigue your audience

I often surprise my trainees when, after a hundred or more slides with a black background, I then start talking about the use of colour, and show them a mostly empty slide with a white background. Their reaction is always the same – the sudden burst of white light physically disturbs them, causes them to reel away, narrow their eyes, and not enjoy the experience at all. I make them think about why they reacted in this way. And then ask them why they would do this to their audiences all the time.

Whether you are projecting onto a screen or using a large LCD screen, a white background produces an awfully bright light, and although if the background is always white your audience will not need to recoil in self-defence, what will happen is that all that light will tire their eyes and make them unnecessarily fatigued. If you want to tire your audience, by all means bombard them with lots of white light. That’s not the aim of most presentations – but sadly it is the result.

A black background with white text will be far easier on their eyes, and help you to keep them fully awake. This is especially important in dark settings such as a theatre where the audience is mostly in the dark. There, a white background is simply criminal. But even in a well-lit room, white on black works just as well as black on white in terms of contrast – and much better in terms of the audience’s comfort.

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2. Keep them focused on you

We use slides to illustrate our messages – they are not the message themselves. We want people to be able to ‘get’ the slide in 3-5 seconds, and return their focus to the presenter, instead of spending the whole time looking at the wall.

Unfortunately, our eyes are naturally attracted to sources of light. So the more light you put on the screen, the more people will be drawn to look at it even if they already ‘got’ the slide. I sometimes test audiences with a slide with just one word on it, and I find people still looking back at it long after they had first read and understood it. That is worse when the background is white.

Give them less light on the screen, and they will be able to focus more on you and what you are saying.

3. Smile – you’re on camera

If you are being filmed, or if there are photographers capturing your moment on stage, then do the cameramen a favour – make sure the slides are no lighter than you are. Otherwise they will have a tough time with the contrast, because a white background on the slide is a lot – a LOT – brighter than you are, even if you have a spotlight on you.

If you want good-quality photographs and videos of your big presentation, don’t use a white background. Black is far better.

4. Slides without borders

You might want to have a slide which simply features a photo in portrait format (i.e. it is rectangular, but while it fills the screen vertically, there is a big gap on the left and the right). If you use a white background, then what people will see on the wall/screen is a photo with two big bright bars on each side, and their eyes will be drawn to the white bars instead of the photo. If you use a black background, they will just see a photo in the middle of the screen.

Quite simply, if you use a black background (and here I do mean a purely black background, not a gradient like Apple uses most of the time), there will be little or no ‘edge’ to the projected image. People will see your nice clear graph in the middle of the wall, and it will blend into the wall rather than being clearly part of a projected white rectangle. It looks so much better. Try it.

5. Stand out from the crowd

99% of slide presentations suck. Probably 95% of these presentations use slides with white backgrounds. It’s not because of the background that the presentation sucks, or at least that’s not the only reason. But it is a simple fact that the vast majority of slides are horrible, and the vast majority of those horrible slides have white backgrounds.

So when you start up your slides, and the audience sees they are white, they will immediately (and perhaps subconsciously) recall all their previous painful experiences with horrible white slides, and they will expect the worst. They’ll probably assume you will assault them with Comic Sans and cheesy stick-man clip art at any time. And clearly you don’t want to start your presentation by making them expect the worst – your introduction needs to make them want to listen!

If however you start projecting slides with a black background, you immediately set yourself apart from all those previous negative experiences. This is not like every other presentation. It can’t be any worse. It might in fact be better.

And if you care enough about your audience and your communication to use a black background, then you’ll probably make an effort with your story, your slides and your delivery as well, so it almost certainly will be better.

But hold on a minute…

You might be thinking that you have to use a white background because you have to print your slides, and you don’t want to use huge amounts of toner. Indeed my old friends at HP would probably love it if you decided to print out mostly-black slides. But I have two responses to this.

1. You should never, ever, need to print your slides. Why would you do that? Slides are not handouts (if you don’t agree, read this) so you shouldn’t print them to give to your audience. Besides, in this environmentally-conscious age, you should be avoiding unnecessary paper use whenever possible. Your slides are intended to be projected on a big screen or via a webinar – and perhaps to accompany your electronic hand-outs which you distribute (ideally) after your presentation.

Of course, if you are producing a document in PowerPoint – which you may want to print – then by all means use a white background and by all means print it. Just don’t confuse that with the kind of slides you would use for a live presentation.

2. Pure Black & White. If you really, really do need to print your slides for some reason (and every rule has an exception), then you can use the Pure Black & White printing mode in PowerPoint, and it will automatically change the colours for you so that your printout is clear but you use a minimum of toner or ink. (NB: PowerPoint 2010 had an issue with this printing mode, and if you suffer from it, there is a hotfix available here.)

So there you have it. Black is the new white when it comes to slide backgrounds. And this is one change your audience will truly thank you for.


How To Make A Great TED Talk

March 12, 2012

Recently my company Ideas on Stage was privileged to coach the speakers for TEDxESCP, a fantastic TEDx event at the ESCP business school in Paris. Working with an amazingly diverse group of fine speakers, we produced a show of which I am particularly proud, and with which the students and speakers should also be extremely pleased.

Following this, I have been asked for the recipe for a great TED talk, or indeed, the magic ingredients for any conference speech.

This is not an easy question, since with the ten speakers I coached, we produced some very different talks.

We had Emmy-winning film director Anne Aghion who spoke movingly about her experiences making films in Rwanda and Antarctica, with no slides but a couple of short video clips.

We had Alexandre Marchac who gave a brilliant talk about the advances in reconstructive surgery, illustrated with many photos and a couple of videos and a ‘TED moment’ in that one of his team’s face transplant patients was actually in the room.

We had Martin Kupp, who explained how students should take control of their education using three examples, illustrated by works of art.

We had Olivier Oullier, who used few slides, but did make good use of some amusing photos which completely contradicted what he was saying, and thus making his point about how our brains think one thing while our mouths say another.

We had Laszlo Laufer, who talked about the power of zoom using a Prezi illustration (and for once, one which I actually quite liked).

And we had Isaac Getz, with whom I performed a small sketch during his talk (is that a TED first?), and who ended up by throwing toy monkeys into the audience.

I’ve not even mentioned them all, but that’s already a lot of very different talks. In fact, the event would be rather boring if we used exactly the same formula for each talk. With any presentation, you have to consider the objectives, the context and the audience, and then choose some key messages, a suitable structure and a strategy to communicate each key message.

However, there are some characteristics which these different talks all share, and after much thought I realised that they are exactly the same ones I use to teach what makes a great slide. So here are the five characteristics of a great TED talk.

SCORE - Simple, Clear, Original, Relevant, Enjoyable (©2011 Ideas on Stage)

Simple

The first is that the message needs to be simple. In 18 minutes (or less) you don’t have time to deliver anything complex, and your audience wouldn’t get it anyway. Your presentation should not be like a crossword clue, where the audience needs to spend time working out what the answer is and what they should do with it. You should be giving them the answer so the audience can use their brain-time to think about what to do with your message.

In order to be simple, you have to be very clear in your objectives and your messages. First, set your objectives by completing this simple sentence:

“After my presentation, my audience will…”

(Of course the rest of the sentence should not read “…wake up”!)

So for Isaac Getz’s talk about how to liberate your company, the objective may have read:

“After my talk, my audience will want to liberate the power of their companies and their people, and will know the three key steps to implement.”

A last point about simplicity: one thing many of the talks had in common was the number three. Three keys, three steps, three examples… three is a very good number, since we can usually remember three points but rarely many more than three. I could write a whole article about the power of three, and perhaps one day I will.

So keep your message simple.

Clear

The next characteristic is clarity. Having a simple message is not enough: it also has to be clear to the audience.

In a slide, clarity is about using text which is big enough to read, about adding text to images so their context and meaning are clear, and about removing unnecessary noise and visual pollution. In the context of the talk, clarity is about giving your talk a clear structure so it is easy for the audience to remember what you said, realise where you are, and have an idea where you are going.

It is also about repetition, because as Lewis Carroll wrote, “What I say three times is the truth”. If you say a key message once, it will be forgotten. Twice is good; three times is better (yes, the number three again). If the audience can remember your key messages and the structure of your talk, then it was clear enough. Even a simple message like “Eat more vegetables” can get lost in a mire of graphs, statistics and boring facts. Don’t let that happen.

If you’re not sure your messages are clear enough, they’re not. Don’t compromise on clarity. Your audience is not psychic, and they are not detectives. They might be smart, but even if they are as clever and perspicacious as Hercule Poirot, your talk should not be an Agatha Christie whodunnit. If the butler did it, say so clearly – ideally three times.

Original

Here is where many TED talks distinguish themselves. We can all remember Bill Gates releasing mosquitoes and Jamie Oliver tipping a wheelbarrow of sugar cubes onto the stage. Those are things that we hadn’t seen before, and they were memorable. So you should try to make your talk original in terms of the way you deliver your messages. There is no rule that says you can’t open a jar of mosquitoes to make people feel the immediacy of malaria. There is no rule that says you can’t use props. There is no rule that says you can’t bring someone else on stage to help you. In fact other than common sense and decency, there’s only one rule: don’t show the audience something they’ve seen before.

Originality is therefore partly in terms of your strategies to communicate your messages memorably, but it is also about the messages themselves. Al Gore gave fine TED talks about global warming, but that’s been done – a TED audience doesn’t want to see yet another talk about global warming, unless there’s some completely new angle to it. So if you want to talk about the reproductive habits of Andean llamas, first search on ted.com to see whether somebody’s already done that – and if so, find something different to say.

Relevant

TED audiences expect new and interesting ideas – “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Audiences at other conferences may have different expectations. A good talk is one which meets or exceeds its audience’s expectations. So for a TED or TEDx event, the message not only needs to be original and simple: it also has to be relevant to the TED audience.

A simple test for this is as follows: at the end of the talk, will anyone in the audience shrug their shoulders and say “So what?” If so, that’s not a good sign.

What you want is that your TED audience thinks at the end “I didn’t know that, and I’m glad I do now” or “I must change how I act” for example.

So your original talk about the reproductive habits of Andean llamas might in fact not be a good subject for a TED talk. If nobody yet talked about your pet subject at TED, perhaps there’s a good reason for it. If the reason is that nobody else yet knows the results of your ground-breaking research, then perhaps you’re on to a winner. If not, ask yourself whether the world really needs to know more about the mating habits of llamas.

A word here to TEDx curators: don’t choose speakers based on how good they are. Choose speakers who have something original and worthwhile to share. Coaches like me can help average speakers to formulate and deliver their great messages memorably. But the greatest coach can’t do much even with the greatest speaker if their story just isn’t worth telling.

Enjoyable

The final part is perhaps the most difficult but the most important. People do not pay good money to go to TED to be bored. They want to be entertained, and TED audiences know that if you enjoy something, then you are more attentive; and if you are more attentive, you take more in and remember more.

So you need to entertain your audience. This is partly in what you say and do, and partly in how you say and do it. This is where it is very important to ensure you have a good coach to help with both aspects.

You need to capture their attention at the beginning, and make them want to listen (for more, read my earlier post First Impressions Last). You need to keep their attention by being interesting and passionate, and by saying things in a clear and memorable way. Try to deliver at least one clearly tweetable statement every minute or two.

Use humour whenever you can (and assuming you are good at using humour – make sure it is properly rehearsed). Remember that humour is a high-risk strategy – see more here – but at TED, being humourless is also a high-risk strategy.

Be extremely careful with your slides, if you choose to use any. A long set of bullet-points in the middle of a TED event will stand out like a sore thumb, and simply signal to the audience that they can take their comfort break right away without missing anything worthwhile. SCORE applies just as much to your slides. They need to be simple and clear; original (no over-used clip-art please); relevant to what you are saying; and enjoyable, i.e. well-designed and pleasant to look at. There’s more to say about TED slides but that deserves another post – watch this space.

There’s a way to make anything interesting and enjoyable, if you look hard enough. For example, Isaac Getz’s three steps to liberate your company (1. create an environment for intrinsic equality; 2. create an environment for personal growth; 3. create an environment for self-direction) could have been delivered in an extremely boring business-school-101 manner, with a monotonous voice and no passion. But we found ways to make his talk enjoyable with stories, examples, amusing metaphors, a sketch, toy monkeys and some playing with the audience, and Isaac did a fantastic job in delivering it. I’ll use this an example in an upcoming post once the video is available.

So that’s the last part: make your talk enjoyable.

Simple, Clear, Original, Relevant, Enjoyable. If you can take a simple, original and relevant message, and deliver it in a clear, original and enjoyable way, then you will certainly SCORE with your audience.

With that, you should be well on your way to producing a fantastic TED talk. And if you happen to be speaking at any other conference, putting this into practice will make your talk stand out. And your audience will certainly thank you.


Introduction To Selling (video)

February 15, 2012

Salespeople need to know how to present, although they also need to know when not to present. I once sold a $100M outsourcing contract over a 12-month sales cycle, and I had salespeople from all parts of the company asking me to share my slides, hoping to replicate this success. They were disappointed: I hadn’t used a single slide in all that time.

Selling isn’t all about presenting: it’s about setting clear objectives, understanding your customer and their problems, choosing suitable messages, making a connection, gaining their respect, communicating your key messages effectively and memorably, delivering a clear call-to-action, and convincing the customer to act.

Look back at that last sentence, though, and you’ll realise that in fact we could say all those things about a presentation as well. Selling and presenting have so much in common. It’s partly why my sales management background helps me in my role as a presentation designer and coach. It also explains why I train people to sell, as well as to present.

Here is a video of my latest mentor session for Le Camping, the Paris-based start-up accelerator, which was the introduction to a one-day seminar about sales and negotiating. In this talk, I cover how to approach a sales meeting, based on three key objectives: making a connection, listening & learning, and always getting to the next step.


Why You Should Present Like Santa Claus

December 21, 2011

In just a few days, an old bearded man wearing red will swoop down from the skies in his sleigh, land on the roof, slip down the chimney and leave Christmas gifts under the tree for my two amazing boys, before drinking a glass of milk and eating a couple of mince pies, and then climbing back up the chimney – without forgetting to take the carrot we’ll have left for his flying reindeer.

Yes, Christmas is upon us, and perhaps we presenters could learn a thing or three from Santa Claus about the art of presenting.

Santa brings gifts

Firstly, Santa comes a very long way to deliver gifts, in return for a bite to eat, a glass of milk and a raw carrot, and more importantly, the smile of a child. As a speaker, you might be paid a little more generously, but whether you are paid thousands or nothing, you should treat a presentation as a gift you are offering to your audience.

Santa only comes because children believe in him and behave well enough to deserve presents. You are only on stage because your audience believes in your ability to change them in a positive way. You are there for them. Your presentation is your gift to them. Treat it as such, from the moment you begin to prepare for it. Their smile, their thanks and the positive change in them will be your greatest reward.

Santa chooses gifts carefully

Every child is different. They wish for different presents. Often they create detailed lists for Santa. My kids were very disappointed last year when Santa got it wrong, and brought Super Mario Galaxy instead of Super Mario Bros. (Imagine the uproar if he’d brought Sonic the Hedgehog instead…)

Likewise, every audience is different, and you need to adapt your talk to your audience’s expectations. Don’t give them something that was on someone else’s wish list. Usually my university talks get very high ratings, but on one occasion this year, the ratings were merely good. Why? On examining their comments, it turned out that the students had been led to expect something completely different to what I’d been asked to talk about, and they were measuring my talk against their (wrong) expectations, even though I’d set out my objectives clearly at the start. So as far as you can control it, work out what your audience is expecting, and then meet or exceed those expectations.

It doesn’t matter how great your talk is: if it’s not the one they have set their heart on, they will be disappointed. Santa (usually) gives kids what’s on their wish list. Do likewise.

Smile

Could you imagine meeting Santa in the living room, and finding him scowling or growling? Santa is a happy, jovial chap, or so we imagine, and behind his white beard there is a perpetual smile.

Presenters should smile too. There are many reasons for this, and I strongly recommend this article by Garr Reynolds on the Presentation Zen blog about smiling. Garr notes:

A presenter or entertainer who actually looks like she is happy to be there—because she really is—is well on her way to engaging her audience naturally.

Another key reason for smiling is the power of mirror neurons. What you visibly feel, the audience subconsciously feels too. If you look happy, they will feel happy. And just as Santa wants kids to be happy, you want your audience to enjoy your presentation. After all, if they enjoy it, they will pay more attention, and that means they are more likely to get your message and even do something with it. Making your audience enjoy your talk should always be a major objective. Smile, and you are halfway there.

RECAP

So there are three things to learn from Santa Claus: treat your presentation as a gift to your audience; tailor that gift to that particular audience; and smile.

With that, let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and inspiring 2012.


Top 10 of 2011

December 20, 2011

As 2012 approaches, and many of us wind down for a relaxing break for Christmas and New Year, it’s time to take a look back at 2011 and what marked it most.

So just as I shared my Top 10 of 2010 last year, here is a rundown of the Top 10 Phil Presents posts of 2011. Whether you read them at the time or missed them, this is a chance to recap the most popular articles of the year (not including event reviews etc).

And let me say a warm thankyou to you, because it is the growing popularity of this blog and the many fine comments you make that keep me writing, sharing, and doing my bit to help change the world, one presentation at a time. Just as a presenter is on stage not because he or she is important but because their audience is important, I don’t write this blog because I am in some way great or important. I write it because you are important. You matter. You can change the world. My role is merely to help you do that in some small way.

So best wishes for a successful 2012, thanks for reading and listening, and enjoy the recap of the most popular posts of 2011.

10. DSK: How emotions beat logic every time

Written before Dominique Strauss-Kahn‘s New York trial was dropped, this took two key presentation lessons from the DSK-Diallo case and the public reaction in France.

9. Adapt To Your Audience

A presenter who takes the time to understand his or her audience, and tailors their presentation accordingly, is worth their weight in gold.

8. Do Investors Like Slideuments?

One of many pitch-related posts this year, this asked the question whether information-laden slideuments are appropriate in an investor pitch. (Clue: they’re not.)

7. Animate Your Audience – Not Your Slides

A follow-up to the year’s #1 post, this one talked about how animation on the screen is bad unless it helps to deliver your message more effectively; but on the contrary, animating your audience is absolutely critical for the success of any presentation.

6. Keep it simple…

As experts in our subjects, we tend to present with far too much complexity. Keep it simple, and your audience will understand far more.

5. When you think Presentation Zen isn’t appropriate, that’s when you need it most

The post that debunks the myth that you can’t use Garr Reynolds’ approach in certain situations like technical presentations.

4. Video: Introduction to Presentation Skills

This post features a 90-minute video of yours truly, giving a presentation skills talk to entrepreneurs at Le Camping in Paris. If you have 90 minutes to learn about what it takes to give a great presentation, sit back and enjoy.

3. First Impressions Last

All about the vital importance of your introduction.

2. Perfecting Your Pitch

Another pitch-related post, and this is about putting the finishing touches to your pitch, and turning it from a good pitch into a great memorable pitch.

1. Two Reasons I Don’t Recommend Prezi

The most-viewed and most-commented post of the year was this one, about how I believe Prezi stops the presenter focusing on the audience before the presentation, and stops the audience focusing on the presenter during the presentation. I believe Prezi is a fine tool for certain niche uses, but in most cases, it is solving the wrong problem, and making an existing problem worse.

And a few bonus posts…

Here are a few other posts which didn’t make the Top 10 in terms of hits, but which I believe deserve another look. Some were from the start of the year (when the blog was not as widely read as it is now), and others were very recent and didn’t yet have time to accumulate enough hits.

Take The Drive-By Test

Treat your slide as if it were a road sign, and make it simple, clear and quick to understand. It’s a simple but powerful test. And this short post from early January also features a hilarious video which is well worth watching.

Show And Feel

About the importance of mirror neurons – this is vital information every presenter should know.

Pitch 2.0 (Video)

A video of my 8-minute presentation at Le Camping Festival in June 2011, in the style of Steve Jobs. Six months later, people still tell me they remember ‘Magic, Vision & Passion’!

Presentation 2.0: Resonate Naked

This was my joint review of Resonate and The Naked Presenter, two fantastic books about structuring and delivering great presentations. For me, these two books usher in the era of what I call Presentation 2.0.

So which of these was your favourite post of 2011?


Beyond 10-20-30

December 9, 2011

I like the spirit of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look at this short entertaining video.

He is basically saying: don’t overload your audience; keep it simple; and use text that’s big enough to be legible by the whole audience. Amen to all that.

However, many people take Guy’s advice out of context and apply it to the letter. Yet Guy was giving advice to entrepreneurs pitching to venture capitalists – a very specific presentation context. He was saying that you should aim to pitch in 20 minutes, with ten slides – and not just any ten slides, but these ten slides (he lists what should be on each slide).

Now for an investor pitch, that’s pretty good advice, although it can be taken to extremes, and I’ve already talked about how you need to go beyond being informative, and also make sure your pitch is memorable.

But the 10-20-30 advice just doesn’t hold up for any other kind of presentation. The spirit is spot-on, and I applaud Guy’s intentions, but you shouldn’t take his advice to the letter – Guy certainly doesn’t follow it religiously in his recent (very good) Enchantment presentations. Here’s why we need to go beyond 10-20-30.

Read the rest of this entry »


Garr Reynolds: Great keynote at the Ideas on Stage Conference 2011

December 8, 2011

We were delighted to welcome so many amazing people – participants and speakers – to the Ideas on Stage Conference 2011 a few weeks ago in Paris.

Our aim with this conference was to inspire people to transform their businesses with the power of innovation, communication and entrepreneurship. So it was partly about great presentations on those themes, but it was also about networking, bringing people together and inspiring people to have their own great ideas. Judging by the feedback, and by the many connections people made, it was a real success.

We were particularly delighted to welcome the brilliant Garr Reynolds back to Paris, and honoured to have him as the keynote Communication speaker. So it’s only right that the first talk I share from this conference is Garr’s fantastic keynote about on-ko-chi-shin or learning presentation lessons from the past.

I’ll be sharing more talks from the Ideas on Stage Conference in the coming weeks. Big thanks to the guys at present.me for cutting this together and getting this online on their great site, so we can see the slides as well as the speaker; and thanks also to Buzdig for the filming.

Enjoy!

Direct web link: http://present.me/view/3642-garr-reynolds-presentation-zen


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